Gem for Japanese shows

Your Home Is My Business! starring Keiko Kitagawa (left) is one of three Nippon TV's current season of primetime dramas to be shown.
Your Home Is My Business! starring Keiko Kitagawa (above) is one of three Nippon TV's current season of primetime dramas to be shown.PHOTO: GEM AND NIPPON TV

Singtel TV Channel 519, to be launched today, offers first-run and exclusive programmes from Japan and other Asian territories

The 1990s and early noughties were the heyday of Japanese television series, with titles such as comedy Beach Boys (1997) and legal drama Hero (2001) popular across Asia.

But nowadays, it seems to be Korean shows that are hogging all the attention, from sci-fi romance My Love From The Star (2013-2014) to military-themed romance Descendants Of The Sun (2016).

In Singapore, this is partly due to the fact that J-dramas have not been easily available.

Ms Wang Yuxing, 27, likes them for their "great variety", but notes that the ones shown on Channel U are three to four years old and shown at "odd times".

The piano teacher and freelance singer is happy to learn that new Asian entertainment channel Gem will help address that problem.

The joint venture between Sony Pictures Television Networks and Nippon Television Network Corporation launches on Singtel TV Channel 519 today. It will feature first-run and exclusive programmes from Japan as well as shows from other Asian territories including China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. Singtel subscribers get a free preview of Gem till Aug 25.

From next month, all three of Nippon TV's current season of primetime dramas will be shown.

Your Home Is My Business!, a comedy which stars popular actress Keiko Kitagawa as a real estate agent who will go to great lengths to make a sale, airs on Wednesdays at 10.10pm, the same day as Japan. Lost ID, a thriller about a man whose identity is stolen from him stars Tatsuya Fujiwara from the hit Death Note movies and airs on Tuesdays at 9pm.

And The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, an adaptation of the acclaimed 1967 novel of the same name, will premiere on Aug 15 and air on Mondays at 9pm. Girl is a sci-fi work about a high-schooler who accidentally acquires the ability to time travel and has been adapted into live-action films, an anime film and for TV.

Its producer Kyoko Matsumoto, 41, says in an e-mail interview that the new series is also a realistic portrayal of the lives of high- schoolers as the three main characters have to leave their rural hometown after graduation to look for jobs.

Another selling point is the gorgeous landscape on show. The drama was shot on location in Shizuoka prefecture and unfolds against a backdrop of the countryside's clear blue skies, the sea and the mountains, which "makes the drama all the more interesting to watch".

The story has been updated for this year with social networking services and Internet platforms such as YouTube incorporated into the drama.

Ms Matsumoto adds: "The girl also has a stronger personality, is boyish and enjoys hanging out with boys. With this personality change, we had to alter the ending as well."

Stepping into the lead role of Mihane Yoshiyama is 19-year-old actress-model Yuina Kuroshima.

She says in a separate e-mail interview: "I didn't want to be too caught up with the previous versions so I just read the script and focused on depicting Mihane as the energetic, vibrant, passionate girl that she is."

Despite the competition from TV series from other countries, Japanese dramas as a whole remain an attractive proposition.

She notes: "Many Japanese dramas take incidents and events from daily life. They're realistic and easy to empathise with."

Ms Wang agrees. She adds: "Sometimes, on Korean dramas, the actors and actresses look the same and that's very unrealistic. In real life, people can be not so good- looking."

At the same time, Korean shows need not necessarily be seen as competitors.

It can be hard to compare them with Japanese dramas when the cultures are different, Kuroshima says. "I have this image of South Korean dramas being emotionally expressive. My impression of Japanese dramas is that they're somewhat reserved when it comes to emotions."

What is interesting to her is this: "If you took the same material and produced it in both counties, you might see a difference in the way each one expresses emotions."

Ms Matsumoto acknowledges that more can be done to sell the shows.

"I can proudly say Japanese programmes are on a par in terms of the high quality of the shows, but I still feel we should do more to promote content."

She also has some ideas on how Japanese shows can grow their audience. They include creating long- running dramas, as opposed to the typical 10 to 12 episodes a season, or shows which bring together actors from different countries.

As the Japanese step up their efforts to broaden the reach of their shows, Asian audiences are poised to be the big winners.

Ms Matsumoto adds: "I encourage those countries in Asia where Japanese programmes are not being watched as much to give them a try. I'm sure you'll be surprised that our dramas offer a vast range of materials across many genres. From love stories, historical dramas, career stories to horror, we offer them."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 29, 2016, with the headline 'Gem for Japanese shows'. Print Edition | Subscribe